Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Live: Jemina Pearl

When: 2/13
Where: Union Pool

Nashville's Jemina Pearl got her break as the singer for acclaimed teenage punk outfit Be Your Own Pet, who won Thurston Moore's love before they were old enough to drive. They caused some controversy with their song "Becky," in which Pearl described how she was going to stab her ex-friend/new enemy Becky to death. Apparently, Becky was a real girl and that was her real name and their high school administration was not pleased about a student issuing another a violent threat, no matter how catchy the tune.

So it's been no secret for a while that Jemina Pearl, as a punk singer, is not a nice girl. The question has always been, is it just a stage persona? And now I know the answer.

The set started awkwardly. The band, none of them looking a day over seventeen, filed out on stage and took their places. No Pearl appeared. They began looking restless and unfortunately, handled the situation poorly. Rather than exiting again or introducing the band or playing something, the guitarist gave the (new) drummer a quick lesson on how one of the songs was supposed to go, then took out his cell phone and presumably called the tardy singer. It was unprofessional, but I guess it's what one could expect from such young kids.

Anyway, Pearl showed up and apologized, explaining she'd been stuck in the bathroom line. It struck me as odd that she hadn't just cut in front - I would if my band were waiting on stage. But in any case, the set started and it started well. I was immediately stuck by how tightly the band played. Pearl is an admirable frontwoman - it's hard to just dance to punk music and keep it interesting, but she did. I'm not familiar with her solo album, so I didn't know the songs, but quite a few people there did, singing along with every note. Pearl's foil on stage, the guitarist, would dance with her and otherwise share the front, while the rhythm section stayed focused on their music in the back.

Pearl was wearing a Kiss shit and a Raincoats jacket, which combination makes her pretty cool. She spit and shrieked and did everything a young, female Johnny Rotten should. Her delivery at times seemed a little melodramatic, and I didn't quite buy it, but as it went on, I became increasingly convinced it was all genuine. I kept thinking of Courtney Love - bad blond dye job, dramatics and an abrasive, domineering personality. And I like Courtney Love. A lot. So that's a good thing.

But at some point, the Courtney Love-ishness of it all got a little too real. Pearl turned around between songs and began berating the rhythm section for screwing up. Now, they sounded fine to me - better than fine, even. Like I said, I don't know how most of the songs are supposed to go, but the band seemed to be nailing it. But still, in addition to chewing out the bassist and drummer in front of the audience, she also began directing her more nasty lyrics very unsubtly in the bassist's direction. And then, in what should certainly not have been the end of the set, she turned around, flipped off the drummer and bassist with both hands and walked off stage. After a moment of awkward confusion, the rest of the band followed, leaving the audience uncomfortably milling to see if they would reappear. After a few minutes, the crowd started drifting out the door. The band members reemerged to pack up their gear and, with few people still paying any attention to the stage, Pearl ran out with a lit cigarette, which she attempted to put out on her bass player's face. He knocked it out of her hand, picked it up and chased her offstage with it.

This guy next to us asked, "did she just put out a cigarette on his face?" and I said, yes, it appears so. He told me he was friends with the band and that they were 100% for real. It was no act. And if you've never been burnt by a lit cigarette, let me tell you, that shit is no joke.

So the murderous narrator of "Becky" wasn't a persona at all. Pearl is a violent and horrible person. And I like her for that - it's time the wusses cleared out of indie rock and us psychos took back over. I hope Pearl's life doesn't spiral out of control like the lives of the nasty punks of history - Sid Vicious, Courtney Love and whoever else I'm too tired to think of right this second. But I hope she keeps her attitude and never backs down. It's about time someone with balls stepped into the indie rock spotlight. [myspace]

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